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The Daily Tar Heel

Download this: e-books often cheaper alternative to print editions

Textbook prices are out of control.

In the 2006-07 academic year, students paid an average of about $700 for textbooks. That’s more than triple the proposed tuition increase for the 2010-11 school year for in-state students at UNC.

Textbook prices have skyrocketed over the past two decades at double the rate of inflation.

But here’s what puzzles me: Our student body has been exceptionally vocal about tuition hikes — but not the increasing cost of textbooks.

A major villain in all of this is the “new edition.” A good example of this on our campus is the infamous media law textbook pack. Students taking the course must pay $90 for two new books just about every semester.

This can make sense from an academic content standpoint. Laws and information are always changing in the field of media, and thus constant updating is usually always necessary.

This, of course, thrills publishers who are looking for any way to weasel a few extra dollars out of our pockets.

But here’s where we can really fight back.

E-reader devices, such as the Amazon Kindle, are a brilliant way to combat high prices.

For a reasonable startup cost, students could purchase one of these readers and pay a very small fee to download their books every semester.

But students can’t do it alone. We need our professors, who ultimately can really help us save a lot of money.

Professors can do this by actively seeking out textbooks that have an e-reader edition available for purchase.

It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. Early calls for e-reader textbooks led three major publishers to begin to offer textbooks through the Kindle.

E-readers are also environmentally friendly. Estimates predict e-book sales will prevent 5.27 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions in 2012.

The e-reader might not be right for everyone. Some people prefer books to e-readers for highlighting purposes, and others might just prefer physical books.

But a cost-conscious student could save about a semester’s worth of in-state tuition by switching to e-readers.

E-readers are the future of college textbooks. UNC should get with the times.


Meredith Engelen is an Editorial Board Member.  Contact Meredith at

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